It’s not just another day, it’s another New Comic Book Day.
As per usual there have been a number of comics worth reading out this week so let’s get straight to it, there’s Doctor Who to watch on Twitch, you know?
First up is the latest issue of Labyrinth: Coronation. In this issue Simon Spurrier manages to explain everything without giving it all away. This issue is like the moment in the original film when Sarah looks at all of the stuff in her bedroom and it’s all familiar, but the penny doesn’t quite drop.
Each month Spurrier and Bayliss produce the most marvellous comic; the narrative, the art, it all comes together to tell a tale of wonder and adventure. Plus, in issue 4 the threatening nature of the Labyrinth is upped a notch with the central villain managing to do something that David Bowie didn’t do as Jareth, become truly scary.
Labyrinth: Coronation from Boom! Studios is a superb example of taking a much loved story and creating a perfect companion piece.
Unlike Labyrinth, Star Trek Discovery: The Light Of Kahless is a poor companion to its source material. Although the story hasn’t been terrible, not gripping but passable, the artwork is still troublesome pushing the reader out of the comic and making it difficult to get engrossed in the narrative. It took me several attempts to read the entire issue. I wanted so much more from this but unfortunately Kirsten Beyer and Mike Johnson just couldn’t deliver. But a part of me is glad that I made it to the final few pages.
Judge Dredd Under Siege #1 also came out but I’ve written about that already…
Finally, there is the matter of The Amazing Spider-Man #800.
800!! That’s an impressive number (not 1000 like Action Comics but still…)
It’s been a while since I read a new Spider-Man comic, I gave up shortly after Dan Slott took over. I wasn’t much of a fan of his take on Spider-Man and to be honest still aren’t. That makes this milestone issue a bit of a disappointment because it’s all Slott, from cover to cover.
There’s a number of different artists working on different chapters of the story and I’ve nothing bad to say about any of them. The story itself however feels cumbersome and one long drawn out fight scene, desperately trying to be profound but constantly falling short of the mark. There is only one moment in the entire, 80 odd page, comic which I connected with on any emotional level. Unfortunately, I found myself rolling my eyes at most of the other ‘dramatic’ twists and turns.
It’s not a badly written comic, just not very spectacular. If you’ve enjoyed Dan Slott’s run on Spider-Man you’ll love this, if not you’ll be left disappointed like I was. There was a chance here to showcase more of the Spider-Man universe, to help easy readers through the transition from Dan Slott to Nick Spencer but instead they’ve gone with an oversized Slott issue.
I was expecting this comic to fill me with excitement for the new creators coming on board, to sell to me the idea of jumping back on the Spidey band wagon but it had the opposite effect. I’m less interested in getting back into Spider-Man than I was at the start of the year when the new creative team was announced.
Back to Twitch where William Hartnell’s Doctor is bluffing his way through some space adventure with three, very 60’s, companions.
Two Judges trapped inside a tower block on lock down. A tower block packed to the rafters with murderous inhabitants and overlooked by a maniacal overlord. The only option the Judges have is to go up, headlong into the violence that awaits them.
Sound familiar? Sounds like Dredd the movie doesn’t it? But it isn’t. This is Judge Dredd Under Siege, a new comic from IDW.
Although the basic premise is the same as the movie there are a number of differences that separate the two stories. The most obviously of which is that the villains of this piece are mutants, streaming in from the Wastelands. This allows Mark Russell, writer, and Max Dunbar, artist, to create some outlandish visuals and really play with the sci-fi elements of the Dredd universe. The movie was very ridged with a realistic aesthetic but Under Siege is more comical with a strong emphasis on the humour.
Max Dunbar draws a solid Judge Dredd, strong and powerful, which are also characteristics he fuses to his rendering of the Patrick Swayze Tower; the setting for the story. It is a massive, phallic symbol, highly detailed in each panel. The over bearing setting creates the tension in the opening pages which helps to detract from the ridiculousness of the mutants when they are finally introduced. The four armed, knife wielding maniac would be more ludicrous if it hadn’t been for the tone which had already been set. In fact, it’s almost a relief from the oppressiveness of the opening.
There is a juxtaposition between the comedy and violent underlying narrative. This is something that has defined Judge Dredd from the early days of 2000AD and Mark Russell handles the mix very well. There are some disturbing scenes but also some laugh out loud moments. Russell manages to make the transition from one moment to the next work without spoiling the joke or undermining the serious message a particular story element is portraying.
The imposing atmosphere that is essential for the narrative of this comic is mostly achieved through the colouring by Jose Luis Rio. He gives the Judges a bold colouring which stands out from the gloom that permeates the tower block setting. This grimness invites trepidation and is the overall feel of the comic until the violence starts. When this starts, the colours become brighter, more over the top like the violence itself.
Simon Bowland expertly places the speech and voice over text, of which there is a lot, in such a way that it doesn’t detract from the art or interfere with the atmosphere created by Dunbar and Rio. This is no easy task when trying to create a heightened sense of tension in a situation. A number of horror comics fail to achieve the atmosphere they aim for because the text destroys the mood of the images, but not here. Bowland makes subtle changes to the speech balloons to make it easy to tell who is talking and he also places them in a way that draws the reader to the focal point of the panel. This means that you are drawn to where the writer and artist want you look even after consuming the speech; this makes it difficult to skip through the pages without picking up on the mood so no matter how fast you read it, you still get the sense of intimidation.
The only real problem with this first issue is with the main villain, Talleyrand. Although barely featured in the comic itself, his presence is felt and doesn’t leave the best of impressions. The problem with the character is that he is a poor copy-cat of Lena Headey’s character from Dredd. He sits on his throne, lording it over his minions; he even has a maintenance worker to help him take control of the tower. Talleyrand is Ma-Ma but without the expert character portrayal by Headey. This over familiarity weakens the character and his impact on the story. Ultimately, the Tower and the Mutants pose a threat to Dredd and Beeny but Talleyrand does not.
Judge Dredd Under Siege has a familiar story, with some aspects a bit too familiar, but overall it is an enjoyable read. The script jumps effortlessly from serious drama to comical indulgence and back again without losing its audience. The artwork builds an impressive atmosphere and the narrative is an addictive page turner. If you enjoyed the Dredd movie you will love Under Siege.
Judge Dredd Under Siege
Published by IDW
Written by Mark Russell
Drawn by Max Dunbar
Colours by Jose Luis Rio
Letters by Simon Bowland
It’s not just the unusually long period of sunny weather that’s distracting me from doing what I should be doing. I made the mistake of gorging on a number of things which take up a lot of my spare time, so much so that I’ve not even started writing the planned posts for my site this week.
So, instead of writing what I was going to write about, here are a few things that have kept me distracted.
The End of Everything
Or more accurately, Jonathan Hickman’s run of the Avengers. I picked up the first issue a few weeks ago because I wanted something superhero-y to read; completely forgetting that Hickman’s run stretched over 44 issues of Avengers, 33 issues of New Avengers and several cross over events.
And once I’d started with that first three issue arc I was totally hooked. I hadn’t read any of it since the series finished with the Secret Wars event in 2015 and I had forgotten so much of it that it was almost like reading it for the first time. Unfortunately, I know where it’s heading and I have strong opinions about the end of the run but everything up to issue 2 of Secret Wars is pretty much amazing and the enjoyment of the journey far outweighs any disappointment of the final destination.
Hickman’s plotting is immense with a story that knows where it is going from the very beginning; elements of the first issue refer to sequences that happen 20, 30 or even 40 issues later. But despite the grandiose storyline Hickman’s real triumph is with the characters. His run examines the very nature of the Avengers, what it means to be an Avenger, and what it means to each individual to be a hero. Captain America’s journey is different to Ironman’s whose is different again to Reed Richards’. All of their life’s are put under the microscope to see how they deal with the inevitabilities of life and it makes for fascinating reading, especially as Hickman finds each character’s voice and makes his vast cast reflect every aspect of humanity.
The art shifts and changes as a multitude of artist help Hickman illustrate his vision. Some are better than others, I have written already about Deodato's wonderful work on the series, but for the most part the visuals are as pleasing as the script. Only one artist’s style made me cringe but considering the number of artists and a 100 odd issue run, one or two issues is a small price to pay.
I’m very near the end of this series which means I’ll have to dig out Secret Wars from whatever hole I’ve buried it in but I have totally enjoyed re-reading this masterpiece of storytelling.
Insert Clever Star Trek Pun
Last year Netflix put all of Start Trek on to their service. I started watching a few choice episodes, my favourite from each of the various incarnations but after catching some of series 6 on a terrestrial channel I made the decision to re-watch ALL of Deep Space 9.
I made it to episode 19 of series 5 last year and only skipped a few, mostly Ferengi based episodes. I took a break when other, new TV series were released but now I’m back on track, picking up where I left off and already I’m a good chunk into series 6.
DS9 is my favourite of the Star Trek series and the further into it you get the more addictive it becomes. This is partially due to the extended plot which stretches throughout the run; the last half of series 7 is basically one long story and in my view was a forerunner for the re-imaged Battlestar Galactica.
Just like Hickman’s Avengers, DS9 asks for commitment, not just to each episode but the series as a whole. And just like the aforementioned comic, the focus of this series are the characters and how they grow as everything starts to fall apart. There are moments early on in the character development which lead to massive storylines later in a series, or even 2 series’ down the line. The start of series 6 for example contains the start of Gul Ducat’s decent into madness and Captain Sisko’s actions dictate where he ends up at the end of series 7.
Not all of the episodes are great and some people have problems with the continuing soap opera aspects of the show but this is what endears me to it. Following the characters through their ‘mundane’ lives while one of the most ambitious Star Trek stories unfolds around them makes DS9 binge worthy TV.
I’ll not be watching anything else until I get to the very end.
A Spot of Listening
I’ve never really listened to podcasts but that is starting to change. I’m slowly being coerced into the talkative world and I’m starting to enjoy it.
There are two that I would recommend to people who have an interest in their subject matters.
The first I discovered through the creators other works. For a while now I’ve been watching Strip Panel Naked on Youtube and reading (the now Eisner nominated) Panel X Panel digital magazine. Both of these are dedicated to looking at the craft of comic book production and Panel X Panel especially really gets to the heart of what makes a comic tick by involving the creators of a specific comic in each issue, allowing them to break down the processes. It is a great read and worth the small subscription fee.
From there I found Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou’s comics focused podcast Letters & Lines. This is fairly new and very in depth. Both Hassan and Aditya Bidikar know their stuff but more importantly they love talking about it. It’s not a podcast where they gush about what they love and review the most recent comics, for that you’ll need to go elsewhere. In Letters & Lines the hosts discuss the processes of creating comics. In each episode they come to the table with a subject and then break it down through back and forth conversation. One of the best aspects of the podcast is that they look at elements of comics that usually get overlooked; the colouring, the letters, production, and editing. It is for listeners interested in the creative process not necessarily just the final product.
You know when you read a comic and know it’s good, you can just feel it but can’t quite put your finger on why it works so well? Then Letters & Lines is for you because they explain what goes on behind the scenes to make a comic a work of art.
You can find Letters & Lines on Soundcloud here.
The second podcast I listen to is a completely different kettle of fish. It’s not even about comics!
Yeah, I know!
Hammer House of Podcast is a look at the Hammer Horror films, in order, from the 1955’s Quartermass XPeriment to 1976’s To the Devil…A Daughter. Hosted by L.M. Myles and Paul Cornell, each episode covers each aspect of one film, with the hosts discussing what they liked or disliked; viewing it from a contemporary standpoint to see if it has stood the test of time.
Obviously a love and certain knowledge of the Hammer Horror movies in question help while listening to the episodes but I haven’t seen a couple of the films they have talked about and I’ve still enjoyed hearing the exceptional hosts talk about it. In fact, their discussion is probably better than at least one of the films they have covered so far. And I have now watched The Abominable Snowman which I hadn’t seen before but completely fell in love with. It is an outstanding film that I wouldn't have thought about if this podcast hadn't introduced it too me. (it appears I have as much trouble writing ‘abominable’ as Paul Cornell has saying it so I’m sorry if I type it incorrectly. Probably best just to move on).
The two hosts exhibit an obvious friendship and their discussions are very natural; it’s easy to imagine them sat around a warm fire in the local pub. The episodes are a relaxed affair although there is a touch of tension as you wait, patiently, for Paul to say something that Lizbeth finds ridiculous. It is a very easy way to spend an hour which I would recommend to people who love film discussions, especially if you are into Hammer movies.
And if you support their Patreon, they run an additional podcast each month looking at other British Horror films, some recommended by their followers. My personal request, and one of my favourite films ever made, The Haunting is due to be covered on the 27th May so I’m looking forward to that.
The podcast can be found on a number of platforms but their website is here..
And on top of all that I am still trying to keep up with the weekly comics. The trouble is that if you start to let a series slide it is difficult to catch up. With a number of titles I am reading I am 2 or 3 months behind but that’s just going to keep building until I reach the point where giving up on them is easier than catching up. Unless of course the entire comics industry implodes and not a single readable comic is released in the next 6 months.
Last week there was the amazing second issue of Crude from Image comics. You can find my review here just to see how much I liked it.
There was also the release of the two sports titles I’m currently reading, Fence #6 and Dodge City #3. Both from Boom! Studios and both interesting for different reasons. I’m finding Dodge City more of a throwaway title; an enjoyable quick read but I’m not invested in the characters or the sport. Fence however has captivated me. The very limited setting and manga inspired artwork gives the comic a simple, yet effective, style but it’s the characters that are so enriching and engaging. CS Pacat is able to dig down deep into each member of her cast and bring out their inner workings. They are only on issue 6 but already we have learned so much about the central characters; their strengths and weaknesses. I’m glad this comic became an ongoing and I can’t wait for each issue to come out. It demonstrates effortlessly how less can be more. The creators focus on the most important aspects of the narrative through the script and the art.
IDW released Bubba Ho-Tep and the Cosmic Blood-suckers which found itself in my reading list thanks to fond memories of watching the wonderful movie with Bruce Campbell. Unfortunately, the comic fails to amuse and falls somewhere between fan homage and naff rip-off. There is some good colour work and the lettering stands out but the narrative is bland B-Movie fare, and not in a knowing 'wink-wink' way. Tadd Galusha produces some good character designs but just like a cheap B- Movie, the characters don’t really shine out and are very wooden within the panels.
And what’s coming up this week, titles that I’m hoping I have time to read? There is the second issue of Star Trek Discovery: Succession and the latest issue of East of West; becasue you can't have too much Hickman. Hopefully I’ll have something to say about them before the end of the week.
My intention is to post more on here but first I have to rid myself of these other distractions. So it’s back to DS9 where Sisko and crew have just liberated the space station from the evil Dominion.
Last Saturday was Free Comic Book day and saw a number of comic shops across America put on special events to celebrate, with a host of creator signings. Over here in the UK, not so much unfortunately. Either there wasn’t anything happening or it wasn’t very well advertised. Definitely near me the best I got was some discounted stock and a selection of the free comics available.
However, a large crowd seemed to gather at a number of shops bringing customers in and hopefully introducing them to some new comics. That is, after all, the point of the day. And in that respect it worked on me because I have at least three new comics to add to my pull list.
Firstly, Transformers Unicron from IDW. I’ve dipped in and out of IDWs Transformers continuity, Originally I was heavily into it but soon dropped away, then picking up the odd run here and there. I grew up on the Generation One Transformers stories and they shaped my reading habit when I was younger so those giant fighting robots have a place in my heart that not even Michael Bay and his God awful films can eradicate.
Therefore, I was drawn in by the Unicron introduction story written by John Barber and illustrated by Alex Milne. It was familiar but different. I could tell a lot has happened in that world but didn’t have any problems following the story. The Unicron story line promises to end this iteration of the Transformers and that alone makes it intriguing but if the writing and art are the same standard as in the FCBD offering then it should be a good read.
The next title that I find myself dying to read more of is Aftershock’s Relay. The introductory issue is beautifully drawn and reads like a cross between the Martian and 2001: A Space Odyssey. In fact, the main theme and narrative of this 0 issue is very similar to Arthur C Clarkes opening chapters for the novel version of 2001. The highlight of the comic is that it sets up a world full of potential, a proper glimpse into the possibilities of the monthly comic.
It is a perfect hook for the ongoing so what more can you ask for from a free comic? I’ll be buying the first issue when it comes out in July. Well done to Zac Thompson and Andy Clarke, you sold your story well.
Finally, this one page of art is enough to get me on board with this new title:
This is the single most exciting page of comic book art I have seen all year.
New writer (Jody Hauser), new artist (Rachael Stott) and all new Doctor. The excitement on her face in this image mirrors my own. The new series, and this comic, can’t come soon enough for me.
We all know what happens in a post-apocalyptic world where there isn’t any power, petrol is scarce and the population has been decimated but what if the equivalent of a nuclear Armageddon happened in a fantasy realm? What if there aren’t any heroes and the magic is scarce and what’s left of the population has formed factions against each other?
If this intrigues you then you should be picking up Coda #1 from Boom! Studios, released this week.
Coda is written by Simon Spurrier and illustrated by Matias Bergara. It tells the story of Hum, a wandering bard who manages to find himself in a scrape wherever he goes. Luckily for Hum he travels on a rare Unicorn whose viciousness is only equalled by his loyalty.
The world that Spurrier and Bergara have created is a sprawling fantasy populated with an array of outlandish characters. All walks of life and villainy are represented with the central character being far from a holier than thou fellow himself. The world has been tainted by the mystical event which has robbed it of most of the magic and this is evident thanks to the multitude of gruesome scenes and quirky illustrative style.
The opening starts with the hero, Hum, mining the innards of a rotting dragon who has yet to leave the world of the living. It screams in anger and frustration but also pleads for help and companionship. This lost soul, a remnant of the magical world, and the duality it displays is a fair representation of this comic’s narrative. Spurrier has written a comic that overlays the usual fantasy elements of stories like Lord of the Rings, onto the harsher, bleak world views of The Walking Dead. Coda is a sword and sorcery version of Jonathan Hickman’s East of West.
Matias Bergara’s artwork also has this uncomfortable duality to it. On the one hand it is bright and fun with playful character design however the putrid colour tones which feature heavily on each page give the landscape the feel of rotting flesh, of degradation. The setting is deliberately uninviting so the reader latches onto the character they are given as a hero and follows him, hopefully to a better place.
Large vistas drown out the characters giving the comic the sense of grandeur and when the story rolls into Ridgetown, the vast tower city, the scope of the world that Spurrier is building is revealed. The city scape extends forever upwards and the cast of characters inhabiting the city are varied and complex. Comedy and tragedy play out through the various scenes, linked by the semi-hero Hum. It is a wonder to behold.
Coda is a fast paced, adventurous romp with a complex central character and one of the best steads committed to paper. Spurrier knows how to write fantasy with enough familiarity to hook the reader but also plays with the genre to create scenes reminiscent of 60’s road movies or Shakespearian comedies. The art work feeds the wayward narrative, again mixing up genres to create a new visual language for this new world. Every aspect of this first issue, including the colour work and lettering, works together to produce a uniquely enthralling read.
Published by Boom! Studios
Written by Simon Spurrier
Illustrated by Matias Bergara
Colours by Michael Doig
Letters by Colin Bell